The Wellesley School Committee (SC) held its March 24 meeting remotely via Zoom, the online meeting platform that’s become a household word in communications and connection. The SC was unable to hold its meeting at Town Hall as usual due to coronavirus concerns.
The biggest topic of discussion: how Wellesley students will learn without actually being in the town’s school buildings. And this was the night before Gov. Charlie Baker announced that schools will remain shut down until at least May 4.
Wellesley Public Schools Superintendent David Lussier said, “It’s hard to overstate how much the world has changed since we last met. On March 6 we had to move to early release of two of our schools,” referring to when Upham Elementary School and Wellesley Middle School students were sent home before noon on that date after a parent of Upham & WMS children had tested presumably positive for COVID-19.
Next, on March 12, came word that the Wellesley Public Schools in consultation with Town leaders made the decision to close “for approximately two weeks. “Three days later, Gov. Baker declared all schools in the Commonwealth closed until April 7.
An enriching experience
Citing initial guidelines to districts from the State level, Lussier spoke of obligations the schools have around equitable access for students, particularly those identified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That federal legislation, passed in 1975, requires that children with disabilities are provided with a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
“That guidance loomed large, that direction from the State, in really defining more of a space around enrichment. That for a few weeks our work would be really about providing students with learning opportunities but with equitable access in mind rather than thinking about pushing out new learning that not all students would have access to for a variety of reasons” such as technological access and home factors.
Parents have expressed dissatisfaction with the enrichment model of education. Readers have contacted us to express a general disappointment with what they say is a current lack of rigor and expectations for students, and a generally too-informal program, particularly at the high-school level.
For the pre-school and the elementary level, Joan Dabrowski, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning said, “We built a website that would allow parents to go in and find ideas and suggestions for resources across all disciplines” including simple daily schedules and learning activities. She said students in grades 6 – 12 receive daily messages and daily learning assignments that they can access through their devices.
“All of our enrichment opportunities right now are most definitely ones that reflect what our students know and can do in that spirit of enrichment,” Dabrowski said. “The current landscape is one where parents can opt in and families and students can determine where they’re going to spend their time in math.” There are also reading and writing resources.
There seems to be a lot of talk about “online resources.” That sounds exhausting for parents, who are clamoring for more structure and less of the perception that much of their work is “optional.”
As one parent who asked not to be named said, “The schools have given us a mostly passive, non-interactive set of games and play that parents (who are already working) would need to do together with the kids. Where are the teachers? Where is the 8:30 bell with the obligatory check in? Where is this going to end?”
What about actual learning?
The educational sands continue to shift. Lussier said that Saturday afternoon the State Department of Education “articulated much more flexibility, basically a 180-degree pivot from the direction we’d been given.”
New guidelines seem to indicate that districts can move away from simple enrichment toward the advancement of learning. Such a change would be welcome news to parents who want to see remote learning enter a realm where the schools are actually moving their children’s education forward.
“All directions right now are clear that we need to be doing more than what we’re doing now,” Lussier said. “There are certainly community expectations and the School Committee has received emails about a hope that we can do more for our students.”
Issues of grades, credits, and grade point averages are all in question right now. “We want to plan for all that as a district, not just wait for the State” to provide guidance, Lussier said. “In less than a week we’ve gone from traditional school to the place we are now.”
Wellesley parents are eager to see what happens over the next less-than-a-week time frame.